Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Musings: From Here to There

It was amusing, in a cringe-worthy sort of way, to hear our nation's President claim, “Nobody knew health care was complicated.”

Really? Seems to me that just about anybody with a brain and a sense of how things work knew full well that health care is incredibly complicated, like every other system in our modern world.

And that includes food. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recently released a report outlining the many challenges facing the world's agriculture and food systems.

These include: shifting weather patterns due to climate change, increases in migration due to military conflicts and extreme weather events, water and other resource depletion, the global spread of pests and diseases, increases in the number and intensity of natural disasters, and demands to use plants for more than just food.

The report noted that “major transformations” are needed to make production sustainable and said that “business as usual” is no longer an option in agriculture. Not when the planet's human population is expected to hit 10 billion 2050:

To meet demand, agriculture in 2050 will need to produce almost 50 percent more food, feed and biofuel than it did in 2012.

All without tipping the planet's carrying capacity or increasing agriculture's already sizable contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. And while dealing with food faddists who oppose new technology and embrace inefficient agricultural models.

It dovetails into a comment I heard Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan make at the recent American Academy for the Advacement of Science meeting in Boston:

By 2050, we will be running out of food.

To further complicate matters, just as more food is required, there's increased competition for land, water and other natural resources as countries seek bioenergy alternatives to fossil fuels.

So it was interesting to see Maui anti-GMO activists Kelly King, Kaniela Ing, Alika Atay and Elle Cochran make big hay — pun intended — over planting sunflowers to produce biodiesel.

As Ing proclaimed on Facebook: 

We just planted the first regenerative crops, sunflowers (with hemp coming soon), on old Maui sugarcane land!
Gosh, amazing how they managed to stay so clean....

And odd that they chose to grow a crop for fuel and cattle meal, seeing as how these same folks are always bitching about how the seed companies should be booted because they supposedly aren't producing any food.

But it is pretty striking to see the sunflowers coming up — along with a healthy batch of weeds — in soil that Ing and others have dismissed as “poisoned” and “toxic” after years of sugar cane production. 

We'll just have to wait and see how this crop does, since it will depend solely on rainfall and the birds are known to feast on the tasty seeds.

Still, it was amusing to see them get all dizzy patting themselves on the back over how this 100-acre parcel will produce the equivalent of 800 barrels of oil per year — if all goes well and the federal subsidies promised by Sen. Mazie Hirono keep coming.

Meanwhile HC&S was using sugar cane bagasse to generate the equivalent of 500,000 barrels of oil per year to meet its power needs, and this went on for decades.

But doncha know that sugar is bad and sunflowers are good? So let's not let the real world get in the way of our Maui dreamin'.....

Speaking of real world, I found out what's happening on the upper fork of the Wailua River, where Tim and Hope Kallai indignantly claimed that “some unknown ecoterrorists dammned up North Fork Wailua and sent all the water into a ditch!”

Turns out the exact opposite happened: all the water was taken out of the ditch and put into the stream.

Yes, the state Commission on Water Resource Management and the US Geological Survey had asked KIUC for its help so they could measure stream flow on the North Fork of the river. As KIUC spokeswoman Beth Tokioka explained:

In order for them to get accurate flow measurements, they requested that the entire diversion be blocked to prevent any leaking of water over the spillway so they could use the diversion as a control point for taking measurements. Since regular maintenance activities were planned anyway, the ditch crew used the sediment to block leakage at the spillway rather than bringing in sandbags.

The material shown on the spillway in the photo is a combination of sand, gravel and some small rocks and will wash away easily when water tops the spillway. It is temporary and will not block the stream’s path long term.

Is it too much to ask that people seek out information before they jump to conclusions and rile folks up over nothing? Or in this case, something that is actually working toward gathering better stream flow data, with an ultimate goal of putting more water back in the stream?

Monday, February 27, 2017

Musings: 4 Sale or Rent

“Kauai's next wave” — as defined by Sunset magazine — looks an awful lot like the last one: Hanalei surf school, shave ice truck, medicinal herb farm in Kilauea. Oh, and the obligatory illegal homestay — on ag land, no less — featured on the cover as “Shhh! Our secret B&B.”
Like this is all hunky dory, and you, too, can move to Kauai and casually flout the law:
The reference is to Eddi Henry, a retired mortgage banker who built a house on ag land in Moloaa that she operates as “curated lodging experience” known as The Palmwood. Rooms go for $295-$350 per night. When the County Council was grappling with the homestay bill back in 2015, Henry showed up and played the sympathy card — “We're all retired senior citizens” — before claiming that TVRs and homestays “are completely different animals.”

Perhaps. But when they're operating without a permit, especially on ag land, they all fall into the same category: illegal. The Sunset story notwithstanding, we're wise to her dirty little secret.

Which is why Henry is now trying to secure an after-the-fact permit. That's likely to be tough, since the Council did not allow homestays/B&Bs on ag land in the ordinance it passed. It wisely recognized that uses like The Palmwood are working to make real farming economically unfeasible.

So Henry is taking the same approach as other illegal operators: gaming and dragging out the system. In this case, she's one of many seeking the recusal of the hearings officer assigned to review the appeals of denied applications.

Why bother to get a permit when you operate indefinitely and get free national publicity while keeping the legal challenge going? It's worked so well for the other illegal operators, and it keeps former deputy county attorney Jonathan Chun employed.

While it was somewhat amusing to find that, according to Sunset, the leeward side of the island does not exisit, or at least merit a mention, I shuddered a little when I read this comment from one of the interviewees:

We came here because of the lifestyle....

It was the reiteration of a quote from a North Shore high-end Realtor that I included in a piece called “Parallel Universes” that was published in Bamboo Ridge a while back and excerpted in what was then The Honolulu Advertiser:

“We all love Kauai. We don’t want it to change, either. It’s what we moved here for: the watersports, the surf, the weather, the golf. In fact, I had this little sign made for my desk, and when I’m talking to customers, I can turn it around and show it to them and it says, ‘I don’t sell real estate, I sell a lifestyle.’ I made that up myself. I think it pretty much sums it up.”

Yeah. I guess it does. And let's face it: it's a lifestyle that eschews local culture, and that most locals can't afford, anyway.

Meanwhile, to support this new lifestyle, the newbies keep providing us with revisionist history. 

Like how the proposed dairy site at Mahaulepu, which grew sugar for a century and more recently pastured cattle, is “pristine.”

And how the stream at the Keahua Arboretum shouldn't have a bridge because the land there is “sacred” and shouldn't be accessed by tourists — even though the existing ford previously linked to an interior loop road that connected Kuamoo Road to Lihue and was traveled by tourists. Not to mention the youngin's now go back there to smoke ice before work in the visitor industry, and too many hunters wantonly dump pig guts and carcasses.

And how the trees back there shouldn't be touched, even though they're all introduced species that were planted 50 to 80 years ago as timber demonstration projects.

And how “intensive agriculture” is horrible, even though the Hawaiians for centuries cultivated pretty much every inch of arable land, greatly altering the natural landscape in the process.

And how legally-permitted, long-existing water diversions that provide hydro and irrigation are now "new dams" created by “ecoterrorists” — and by this they mean KIUC and Grove Farm, as opposed to the real ecoterrorists who vandalized the diversion and generated all the concrete rubble that has flowed into the stream, along with rocks and silt, during the recent gullywashers: 

And how this diversion is also responsible for Hawaiian Homes keeping kanaka on the wait list, even though DHHL's plans to develop housing in the Wailua area were contingent on building more resorts at Lydgate to finance construction:  
California transplants Hope and Tim Kallai are filled with revisionist history and misinformation, including their claim that the "ala loa" hugs the coast through Moloaa and Waipake before inexplicably cutting through Mark Zuckerberg's property to access Koolau Road.

It reminds me of a George Orwell quote: “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

How ironic that this destruction should be orchestrated by those who are convinced they are "saving" Kauai!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Musings: Confusion and Deceit

I learned a new word the other day: agnotology, the study of ignorance. Or more specifically, “willful acts to spread confusion and deceit,” often through false or misleading scientific studies.

It's certainly relevant in these days of “alternative facts,” when beliefs and feelings are given the same credence as facts, and misinformed citizens (and their elected officials) gain equal standing with experts.
But what's really disturbing is seeing 10 politicians — Kauai Councilman Mason Chock, Maui Councilmembers Elle Cochran, Alika Atay, Kelly King and Don Guzman; and Hawaii Councilmembers Jennifer Ruggles, Maile David, Karen Eoff, Valerie Poindexter and Eileen O'Hara — engage in this intentional, willful deceit of the people they are pledged to represent.

These 10 elected officials today used the commentary section of Civil Beat to outright lie, claiming Hawaii's “most vulnerable” citizens are being exposed to agricultural pesticide drift and that the state has ignored Joint Fact Finding recommendations on soil and water sampling. Neither is true. There is no evidence anyone is being exposed to drift, and the state has launched environmental studies to monitor for pesticides.

Then they intentionally sought to confuse by saying that air sampling has consistently detected the pesticide chlorpyrifos at Waimea Middle Canyon School, without mentioning the levels were "well below health concern exposure limits or applicable screening levels" and the chemicals present in stinkweed were found, too. They went on to claim that chlorpyrifos caused the hospitalization of 10 farmworkers last year, without also noting that not one of the workers was actually injured. Instead, they were taken to the hospital solely for observation.

They further sought to deliberately confuse by saying “27 schools in Hawaii are within 1 mile of open agrochemical research fields where large amounts of RUPs are sprayed,” while conveniently failing to note that these fields haven't caused one school evacuation, or a single case of student pesticide exposure.

But these 10 politicians saved their biggest lie to bolster their call for statewide buffer zones and mandatory pesticide disclosure:

This can be done without burdening small farmers or food producers, because most food farmers do not use high levels of RUPs.”

Wrong. These demands burden small farmers most of all. Though the seed companies and other large operators may have the land, personnel and revenue to comply with such requirements, small farmers do not. These measures, which are totally unwarranted, will seriously harm Island agriculture, which is already struggling to survive.
These 10 politicians know the facts. They also know they are intentionally distorting the facts. Their willful deceit is a page taken straight from the playbook of anti-GMO groups that worked to secure their election.

We all know it's wrong to lie and deceive, and it's especially disturbing to see it in public servants. It's really quite shocking to see these 10 elected officials actively seeking to perpetuate ignorance in order to satisfy a special interest group.

It's telling that only Mason Chock, whose very entry into politics was accomplished through dirty dealings, was the only one who signed on from Kauai. Voters there have finally gotten wise to these despicable tactics and largely rejected the politicians who embraced them. Mason barely squeaked into office last November, and he is extremely vulnerable in the 2018 race.

Now it's up to voters in the rest of the state to throw off the cloak of ignorance that has been so carefully woven by well-funded, mainland-based anti-GMO groups. Unless, of course, they like being fooled and duped.

So why do people believe what they do? Even in the face of facts that point otherwise?

Well, as I learned listening to researchers at the recent AAAS confence, young people are largely unable to discern the credibility of information they encounter in media. Activists work this naivete by making extensive use of deceptive memes and social media to spread false messages.
And as explained by Yale law professor Dan Kahan, a specialist in cultural cognition, taking a certain position on an issue is a badge of loyalty to a group. It invests the person strongly in maintaining that view, and the investment is cemented through the use of argumentative, polarizing memes.

We've certainly seen that play out in Hawaii, where newcomers and others eager to achieve a sense of belonging have aligned themselves with special interest groups that use appealing phrases like “aloha aina warriors” and “aina protectors” to attract followers.
But ultimately, they remain ostracized by a community that has been appalled at the negativity, polarization and hate perpetuated by the anti-ag/anti-GMO activists. Secure in their little echo chambers, and fed a relentless diet of propaganda, they start to believe they're the majority, when in fact they're the lunatic fringe.

To counter the polarization, Kahan said, one must find ways to disentangle people’s identities from the issues, or use their alignment with the group to shift them toward the scientific consensus, such as getting knowledgeable people from the groups they identify with to share the truth.
In the meantime, those in the know must keep speaking out. The future of Hawaii agriculture hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Musings: Reassigning Blame

Now that Hawaii Dairy Farms has pulled its EIS, opponents are slathering at the opportunity to drive a final stake through the heart of the project.

Though HDF issued a press release vowing “we're not giving up,” it's unclear whether it actually can answer the concerns raised by the Office of Environmental Quality Control. One thing, however, is clear: it would be virtually impossible for a non-philanthropic entity to engage in this lengthy, costly, contentious process. So if this project dies, it's unlikely we'll see any new dairies in Hawaii — especially the small ones about which opponents rhapsodize.

And that will suit many just fine, even as they continue to preach the hollow doctrines of food security and sustainability.

Perhaps an operational missile interception site will be more to their liking than the “industrial agriculture” they revile. No nasty flies, pesticides or manure to worry about. And it sounds like Schatz and Tulsi are down for it.

Despite all the anti-ag activism, I'm beginning to think that it might actually be possible to feed Hawaii, seeing as how the antis have very low standards when it comes to locally grown produce:
Now that's some sorry ass lettuce. But hey, if she's happy with it....

After catching flack for pursuing legislative bills that harm farmers, Hawaii Center for Food Safety has changed its messaging, if not its actual strategy or goals:
Meanwhile, CFS continues to ignore the fact that homeowners misusing pesticide products are the real, true problem. After all, they caused nearly all the school evacuations, and they are the reason why Oahu's urban streams have the highest pesticide levels in the Islands. Shoots, even the pesticides supposedly found in hair samples taken from Malia Chun's kids came predominantly from domestic sources.

Rep. Lynn DeCoite, a Molokai Hawaiian homestead farmer and vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee, touched on this point in a Maui News commentary:

Punish those that do wrong. I fully agree with that. Fine them — fine everyone who breaks the rules. But if the evacuations of schools were caused by pesticide use by homeowners, then why are we turning the blame on others?

In order to keep our communities safe, we need to know who and what to keep them safe from. And it is the responsibility of everyone in a community to know how to use pesticides safely. This is why I feel these regulations should apply to everyone.

For this bill [HB 1571], and many like it, the real focus should be education and prevention. Let’s not jump the gun. This could be the difference between our food being sustainable or not.

I continue to be fascinated by the process of idealizing and romanticizing agriculture and sustainability in Hawaii. It's led to some really amazing revionist history and super creative alternative facts, while deifying demagogues. Most recently, we see this dynamic at play in a short film eulogizing Molokai. The narrator intones:

Molokai is now positioned to chart the way forward for the planet by developing new models of sustainability based on the indigenous wisdom of ancient Hawaii.

Really? Is anyone anywhere actually looking at Molokai as the model for anything? If the planet's future depends on Molokai charting the way, we're really fucked.

The piece prominently features Molokai activist Walter Ritte, who is slated to be the subject of his very own documentary by the same filmmaker. It includes Walter's unintentionally amusing comment:

And then we have these outside forces coming in and they want to change things.

Funny to hear Walter grouse about that, seeing as how much money he's raked in from the “outside forces” funding Hawaii SEED. These same “outside forces” have also bankrolled AINA, Poisoning Paradise, Island Earth and the other anti-GMO, back to the 'o'o videos circulating among the “aloha aina” crowd, which is itself comprised largely of “outside forces” who moved to Hawaii looking for their little piece of paradise.

Of course, Walter has his cash cow — and in upcoming days I'll be delving deeper into the money that's flowing into the Hawaii anti-GMO movement. So why should he be concerned about destroying economic opportunities for his fellow Molokai residents, many of whom are acutely aware of the reality that the seed companies, government jobs and welfare are the three largest “employers?” As this Hawaii Business report noted:

“There was always something else. When pineapple closed, the resorts were there. When the ranch closed, Monsanto was still there. There was always an answer. We don’t have the answer now.”

—Kimberly Mikami Svetin, Store owner

Guess she hasn't heard that Walter's got it all nailed down.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Musings: Hubris and Huhu

As the Kauai anti-GMO forces continue to shred one another over money and celebrity access, they're confirming everything I've reported about how Hawaii activists were used as pawns by mainland groups.

The most recent spat started when Fern Rosenstiel gushed over Pierce and Keely Brosnan at a sparsely-attended Los Angeles screening of an anti-GMO propaganda piece that Keely produced with attorney Teri Tico:
This folly earned the wrath of Kaiulani Mahuka, who rightly recalled how the Brosnans had diverted water from the late Cathy Ham Young's taro patch for their landscape ponds, leaving her loi high and dry. And when she prevailed legally, they appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Correction: The Bosnans prevailed in legal action, prompting Ham Young to file an appeal. Not to mention how the Bosnans blocked access by planting the public beach in front of their North Shore Kauai vacation rental:
Yes, just as I've been saying all along, the Hawaii anti-GMO movement is not and never has been a homespun, grassroots effort. It was orchestrated by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, which relied upon Paul Achitoff and Andrew Kimbrell, respectively, to write a bad bill that, as Kaiulani points out, made NO DIFFERENCE — except, of course, to the fundraising efforts of those two groups.

When the courts ruled that county laws were pre-empted by the state, the two groups were able to use that decision to solicit donations to continue the fight they started, and surely knew they would lose.

While some of the actvists are waking up, others continue to pander and pose, most notably Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing. He and another anti-GMO pawn, Councilman Alika Atay, are quoted in a terribly biased Huffington Post piece that calls on people to “'bring your emotions and stories to overcome the political skill,' power, and government-corrupting influence of A&B” at the Commission on Water Resource and Management hearings later this week.

Yeah, no need bring facts. Just emotions and stories. Because that worked so well in demonizing the seed companies and frightening people about non-existent pesticide risks. Surely CWRM can be similarly swayed to make a bad decision, if enough folks cry and rant.

The article shares this nugget:

Ing believes that Maui’s “agricultural future must be centered around leasing small plots to small, innovative farmers and allowing shared equipment though co-owned ag parks. Let’s democratize the plantation. We have an opportunity to set an example of self-sustainability for the world.”

Yet with no trace of irony, the article then quotes Maui Councilwoman Kelly King:

“My biggest concern with A&B’s “plan,” and I use that term lightly, King observes, is that it ignores the essential question of who is going to do the farming? Not one acre has been leased to a local farm. We need a system that we can trust.”

But somehow King and Ing believe that the lack of farmers will not be an issue under Ing's model. Or maybe they're counting on a whole new group of dreamers, recruited by Atay:

Looking at Standing Rock, whose flame is being dispersed to ecological struggles by native peoples around the world, Atay, in his barrel chested voice, proclaims: “Water and earth protectors, Maui needs you.”

Poor Maui. It's now in the thick of what Kauai endured, before voters wised up and rejected single-issue, self-interested politicians like Fern and her cronies, Dustin Barca, Gary Hooser and Felicia Cowden.

Ing, exercising his best revolutionary rhetoric, then espouses:

“Maui is set to be an example of regenerative and sustainable agriculture,” Ing observes. “But we’re going to need some serious political disruption in order to do that.”

Uh, no, what you're going to need are some people who actually know WTF they're doing agriculturally. Unless Ing plans to use conscripted labor and government subsidies to support his miracle formula of "biofuel crops like sunflowers, local food like mangos and avocados, and hemp and bamboo for a variety of uses."

Which brought to mind this Tweet by a new farmer:
So how is is that Ing, a bureaucrat, has the hubris to dictate how farming is done on Maui, and elsewhere around the state?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Musings: So Much Hot Air

That hackneyed buzzword "sustainability" reared its ugly head today in a letter to the editor from the Hawaii Farmers Union (HFU) opposing the Mahaulepu dairy.

Aside from the very relevant question of whether the HFU, which produces just a tiny fraction of Hawaii's agricultural product, should dictate policies and practices, there is that niggling issue of WTH actually constitutes sustainability on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.

In her letter, Kapaa resident Eden Marie Peart writes:

[I]t is important for the public to understand the difference between HDF’s industrial dairy, with a large herd on limited acreage, and a sustainable dairy with sufficient acreage.

However, Peart doesn't put forth an image or definition of what a "sustainable dairy with sufficient acreage" would look like on Kauai. Nor does she tell us about HFU's own efforts to create the ideal it imagines. Instead — and this is what really bothers me about HFU and the antis they so often align with — she merely criticizes what is being proposed as not good enough.
Peart tells us that the National Farmers Union policy states a dairy program should "encourage and enable producers to use sustainable environmental practices” and “assist new farmers entering into farming,” before dismissing Hawaii Dairy Farms (HDF) as failing on both counts.

But HDF believes its rotational pasture model — based on New Zealand practices — is sustainable because it reduces the amount of imported fodder required to feed livestock. It also makes use of the manure to fertilize the grazing paddocks so they can produce fresh grass.

What's more, HDF will be contracting with local cattlemen to take the male calves, which enhances the sustainability of their ranching operations, and it provides a market for farmers — onstensibly some of whom may be "new" — who want to grow livestock fodder. If that production is able to reduce the importation of feed, it would boost the sustainability not only of the dairy, but others raising livestock on-island.

I was recently in New Zealand (where these pictures were taken) and while that country has had environmental problems associated with its dairy industry, largely because it is has expanded so widely and rapidly, its pasture-based model is nothing like the confined field lots of the US mainland, or the operation previously at Moloaa.
Peart also errs in stating the dairy would "imperil Kauai’s drinking water and wreak ecological havoc." Neither scenario is likely, according to the EIS, and Peart offers no documentation to support her assertions. We're just supposed to take her word for it, and join her in rejecting the project because it is "clearly contrary to the policy of the National Farmers Union."

Again, who cares what NFU thinks? They're a new organization in Hawaii, and their members have done precious little to actually advance productive agriculture in the Islands.

Peart then sniffs that the dairy "would regressively take us in a diametrically opposite direction from the food sovereignty that Hawaii and the world require for a livable future."

If she and others kill the Hawaii Dairy Farms project, there is no alternative dairy — sustainable or otherwise — waiting in the wings to take its place. Instead, it just means a perpetuation of the status quo: importing milk from the mainland. Or alternatively, more resort/tourism development. How can either of those scenarios be considered any more sustainable than the Mahaulepu dairy?

But HFU and other groups like it don't look at things in their real world context. Instead, they seek only their vision of perfection — even if failing to realize that goal means a perpetuation of practices that are clearly not sustainable.

Robert Zelkovsky, the Surfrider PR person who posts under the name "Dr Surf," has also criticized the dairy for failing to meet his definition of sustainability:

So what part of this operation IS sustainable? In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Is it petroleum based fertilizer they say they will use? Nope. Is it the fuel used transporting milk to O`ahu for processing? Nope. Is it the gmo chem fed based feed they say they will need more and more of as time goes on? Nope. Is it the fuel used in transporting the calves continually born to the pregnant lactating cows? Nope.

To which I would respond, so tell us, Dr Surf, what part of your own life on Kauai is sustainable? Do you drive a car? Use electricity? Consume any food or other products imported from anywhere? Drink water? Buy any disposable products? Use any shipping services? Travel by airplane? Live in a house made from imported, termite-treated materials?

Like so many of the antis — and I'm willing to bet Peart is the same — he himself is living unsustainably even as he demands sustainability from a Kauai-based agricultural enterprise.

This double-standard continues to hinder agriculture in Hawaii, even as its proponents remain blind to both their hypocrisies and their own unsustainable existences in their adopted "paradise."

We all know it's virtually impossible to achieve true sustainability, especially on a remote island, and much less while turning a profit. If a dairy bankrolled by one of the world's richest men can't make it, what hope is there for the sustainable small farmer of Peart's bucolic dreams?

Before Peart and Dr Surf pass judgment on the dairy, they should examine their own lives and move forward with a viable alternative to HDF. Otherwise, it's just so much hot air, and with global temperatures rising, that's not sustainable, either.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Musings: Ethics & Issues Around New Gene Technologies

While flying across America's heartland yesterday, I was reminded of why there's “big ag.” And that's because it's a big country — something that people in Hawaii tend to forget.
I'm here in cold and snowy Boston at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science — the world's largest general scientific community. Though the program is packed with interesting stuff, the hot topic of gene editing is front and center.

This morning I attended a press briefing where six scientists spoke about the ethical, social and regulatory issues associated with gene editing and gene drives. They also touched on the implications of gene editing in animals, such as disease-carrying mosquitoes, and viruses, with the goal of driving them to extinction.

George Church, of the Harvard Medical School, said researchers and policy-makers are now grappling with this key question: “What do we determine as zero or acceptable risk to the environment versus the millions of [human] lives at stake?”

Richard Hynes, a scientist with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, served on the National Academy of Sciences' international panel that recently released seven general principles for the governance of human genome editing. He said the panel agreed it would be alright to edit heritable human genes, but only with stringent oversight and to prevent and treat severe diseases — not for “enhancement.”

He said it likely would be several years before scientists are able to safely and effectively edit human genes. Meanwhile, some of the public concerns about using the technology to create a “master race” are premature.

“We have no idea how to make designer babies,” Hynes said. “It's a fantasy at the moment.”

It's also “not that easy to do this,” he noted. For example, scientists still don't know what genes govern intelligence, and some 700 genes are involved in determining height.

Josephine Johnston is part of a project with the Hastings Center in New York that is looking at the social and cultural impacts of gene editing, such as how it might affect the rights of the disabled, authenticity and identity issues, and the nature of parenting itself, especially in regard to giving parents more control and choices in their offspring.

Gary Marchant, a law professor at Arizona State University, also served on the NAS panel, which grappled with the question of international laws and regulations governing gene editing. Though science is global, laws are nation-specific, so it's unlikely identical laws will be adopted around the world. Instead, most countries are likely to focus on safety and efficacy.

Jennifer Kuzma, of North Carolina State University, said US policies need to be “bolstered” to respond to the new technology. As an example, she used the transgenic mosquito, which has been engineered to carry a lethal gene that causes larvae to die. It is currently regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), which has no mechanism for assessing environmental harms, and can't really assess the safety of processes that are designed to kill.

I asked what sort of enforcement would accompany regulations, particularly in the global sphere, and with applications that would be released into the environment.

Marchant said the NAS panel discussed that issue, and scientists had objected strongly to the concept of an international police force that could enter labs and destroy research. Instead, a more informal approach is envisioned, such as journals, institutions, granting agencies and professional societies only supporting research that complies with ethical guidelines.

Patents are another effective means for controlling and regulating the use of the technology, Church said, though patent-holders would need to register in each nation.

Kuzma said regulations also fail to take into account the “do-it-yourselfers” who are able to easily access the technology of gene drives and CRISPR.

Another reporter asked whether the “lethal gene” could be used to wipe out humans. Church said it works best with species that have a fast reproduction cycle, such as mice and insects. Furthermore, one of the first things scientists looked at in developing gene drives was how to reverse it, so that could also stop its spread through humans. “It would not be the method of choice for terrorism,” he said.

In Hawaii, there's been some discussion of using gene drives to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmit avian malaria, which is devastating native bird populations. A trial release already has been approved for the Florida Keys, where officials think the transgenic mosquitoes could help them reduce nearly all insecticides used to control mosquitoes that carry Zika and other viruses.

In an ironic twist to the anti-GMO fight we see being waged in Hawaii, where opponents are now focusing on pesticides, some Keys' residents “have vowed to hire private pest control crews to kill the GM bugs,” according to stat news.com.

So if activists can no longer use the fear of pesticides argument against GMOs, or claim they're being developed solely so multinational companies can sell more pesticides/herbicides, what will be the next bogeyman raised?

And if the technology is being used to protect endemic species — the true natives — isn't that in alignment with the concept of aloha aina?